The first time Monica Bellucci steps on the West End stage as Maria Callas in a one-woman show, she doesn’t play it safe. The Italian film star talks to Nick Clark about overcoming stage fright, audiences in her hometown, and what made her want to play the opera star in a movie that was made in Italy.
At a show a few months before the pandemic, Monica Bellucci took her first steps on stage in front of people who paid to come. It was “an amazing moment,” says the Italian film star. She was both “scared and excited,” and she was both. When she was younger, Bellucci was asked to play in the theater, but “I always said, “No,”” she says on the phone from Paris. Then what? “Then I made myself.”
Maria Callas is one of opera’s best sopranos, and the role she couldn’t say no to was to say the words that she sang. Bellucci: “I read the letters and memoirs, and they were so full of emotion that I couldn’t help but read them. I couldn’t stop.”
It tells the story of the great opera singer Maria Callas, from her humble beginnings in New York to her international fame. It has already been shown in France, Italy, and Greece. In a few weeks, Bellucci will bring the show to the West End.
“We show Maria as a young woman who was hopeful and excited about the future.” Finally, when she was old enough to figure out how to balance her work and personal life, “it was hard,” she says. In the last years of her life, she handled her sadness very well.
Project came up with Tom Volf, who directed the 2017 documentary Maria by Callas and put together the book of letters and Callas’s unfinished memoir that shares its name with the show. He came up with the idea for it.
Bellucci: “Tom came to me, and I was excited but also very afraid, because it would be my first time on stage.” Callas’ letters and memoirs, on the other hand, were so full of emotion that she couldn’t help but fall in love.
“What really moved me in this project was Maria Callas’ ability to be both a diva and a real person with real emotions and a simple heart. This was a very important part of the project.”
She doesn’t know why Volf came up with the idea. ‘Maybe because I have a Mediterranean vibe to me. Caldas was born in New York, went to Greece and then Italy, and then moved to Paris. There were parts of her that made her seem like a person from another country. : “I can connect with that.”
She made her stage debut in November 2019 at the Théâtre Marigny, which is just off the Champs-Élysées. The warmth from the audience helped Bellucci get over her stage fright. “The way you interact with the public when you’re on stage is very different, but at the same time, you reach a level of sincerity and craftsmanship that makes the show beautiful.”
When she started the show in Paris, it was supposed to be a one-time thing. It then went to cities like Athens, Istanbul, Rome, and Venice, and will go to New York after London.
At the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, close to the Parthenon, Bellucci sang with an orchestra. This was a high point for her. Each night, almost 4,000 people came to see us at this theater. It was very big. In Greece, a woman who was a friend of Callas came up to her. I have the same soul, but I don’t have the same voice.
When Bellucci had the worst moment of his life, it was in Rome, Italy. “I tried to stay there until the end.” A place to stay in Rome. I knew people in the theater and I felt like I was at home even though I come from Umbria. I was so emotionally invested that it was very hard. When I don’t know anyone, I feel more safe.
Even though she’s been on the show for a long time, the fear that she felt before her first performances hasn’t gone away. “I thought that after so many times, you wouldn’t be afraid anymore, but it’s not true, it’s always the same. It never changes.” “Why are you doing this?” I ask myself every night before I go on stage. But I think it’s pretty, and that gives me the strength to do it.
Bellucci didn’t see a lot of theater when she was growing up in Città di Castello, Umbria. She was more interested in movies. She started out as a fashion model, then moved on to acting. She worked on European hits like Malèna and Irreversible, as well as big movies like the Matrix sequels and Spectre. But during that time, she developed a love for theater, even if she didn’t do it herself.
The first show she did was Maria Callas – Letters and Memoirs, and since then, she has been very interested in seeing other one-woman shows. “Right now, I like to see women alone in theater to see how I feel.” It’s so interesting to think about how hard and beautiful it is to be a small person in a big theater.
So, could Bellucci be lured back to the stage for a new project? “I don’t know, after this I’m done, enough.” My first and last job. “I like it because it’s always different.” I don’t know why things happen to me. She sways a little: When something comes up and I can’t say no, “I’ll do it… and die again.”
There are also times when theater is “magic,” she says. So when I’m on stage, I hope I can help people. It’s very different from movies because the work goes on without you. On stage, you are in charge of everything, even when you are alone. One thing I can be sure of, though: “I’ll never do theater alone.”